Where have all the women Japanese hibachi chefs gone?

Last week, I was contacted by Oxfam America to write a post (with a humorous slant) about the inequalities women face in honor of International Women's Day, which is today, March 8th.  There is much I want to pass on to you about that, but, first, let me tell you about a little research study I conducted yesterday afternoon to answer the question:

Where have all the women *Japanese hibachi chefs gone??

Hahaha!!  Women?!  Sayonara to that!  No women here!

Enjoying the culinary talents of hibachi chefs at Japanese restaurants (ahem, Benihana's) is something my family loves to do.  We love to see them chopchopchopchopping the heck outta some scrambled eggs.  We love opening our mouths in an effort to catch a clump of rice launched from a couple of feet in front of us.  We love to watch them aim the clump of rice at my 3-year-old's son's mouth but miss and land rice in his hair eight times in a row.  We love laughing at them when they say, "Meow" as they begin to slice into some raw chicken.  Nothing makes us gasp more than a wall of fire that is then extinguished by a plastic man peeing on the flames (I've only seen that once and never at Benihana's).  And we never cease to be amazed at how they can flip a raw egg all over the place with their spatula and then crack it on the its edge while never actually touching it with bare hands!


But, as impressive as all of that is, I become distracted at those hot Japanese tables.  As I glance around the room full of other people clapping and laughing and chowing down on the delicious fried rice and guzzling ginger dressing off of the iceberg lettuce salad, I notice there are no women hibachi chefs.  This doesn't upset me or anything. I mean, maybe women just don't want to be hibachi chefs.  I asked our hibachi man and he said he had never known a woman to don the red chef's hat and entertain the masses with her quick stir-frying skills.  Not feeling satisfied with his isolated experience, though, I picked up the phone yesterday to call about ten other Benihana's to ask them.

"Konnichiwa.  Thanks for calling Benihana's.  How may I help you?"

"Hi.  I have a question for you.  Could you tell me if you have any women hibachi chefs at your restaurant?"

"Yes, we do have lemon hibachi shrimp.  We would just add some lemon to the shrimp, but we can do that.  No problem."

"No, I didn't say lemon hibachi shrimp.  I said women hibachi chefs."

"Ohhh!!  Hahaha!!  Okay.  Ummm.  Well, there is a woman that helps hand the food to the chef.  She helps him get ready."

"But, are there any actual women chefs there?"

"No.  No, not since I've worked here."

"Do you know why?  Have there been any women applicants?  Are they just not suited for the job?  What's the deal?"

"I really don't know.  I have no clue."

That was the response I received from the majority of the Benihana's I called (except only one of the places thought I said "lemon hibachi shrimp".)  Only two said that they had a woman chef at one point long, long ago.  One gentleman said she had to leave due to "issues she had to take care of" and the other one didn't know why she had left.  One guy I called actually told me why he thought women didn't really cut it as hibachi chefs:

"Well, there just so many things to do.  They have clean up, scrape table, sweep up.  Too much for them.  They have stay late, work hard.  After that, no time for family.  That why women no hibachi chefs."

Aha!!! So , according to him, women may not want to be hibachi chefs because they wouldn't have time for their families! That must be the bottom line in what this man was saying, because, if there is one thing most women know how to do, it's clean, scrape and sweep! Can I get an Amen??

Thanks to the good ol' Internet, I did eventually find ONE woman hibachi chef:

If there is one thing I know women to be, though, it is HARD WORKING.  Here are some facts quoted from Oxfam regarding women:
-66% of the world's work falls on women's shoulders, yet they earn only 10% of the world's income.
-Worldwide in 2008, nearly 800 million people over the age of 15 could neither read nor write- two-thirds of them were women
-Women make up 43% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, yet they account for only 10-20% of landowners
-If women were given the same level of access to resources that men have, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%.
-Hunger and poverty are about power and inequality, and women and girls face the biggest inequalities of all.
You may have grown up with (or have) a working mother, or one who has, either temporarily or permanently, chosen to forego a career in order to focus on raising family.  You may be either of those mothers now.  But whichever choice your mother made or you are making now, chances are you remember her going to any lengths to keep you safe, clothed and fed, so that you could grow into a healthy and happy human being and, if you are a mother now, you are doing the same.

An example of one of the e-cards from Oxfam.  Source
But some moms, who also want to feed and provide for their kids just like your mom did and you are doing now, are facing hardships that make it nearly impossible. They’re among the one in seven people who go to bed hungry every night. That’s right, one in seven. And, according to Oxfam, this isn’t because there isn’t enough food to go around. It’s because there are deep imbalances in access to resources like fertile land and water.  In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s population – 2.5 billion people – live in poverty, and many of them are women.
Women who work hard, but can't earn enough to feed their families; women whose hearts break when they see their children go hungry; women- half the people on earth- who need equal access to the resources that can help them overcome poverty.

Checking out Oxfam's website for information, videos and donation opportunities is one way to help. Another way Oxfam wants us to help is by spreading the wordBy sending an "International Women's Day" e-card to important women in your life, you are getting the message out about the billions that live in poverty, including many women and children. 

Here are some important links: Click here to donate or fundraise, here to send an e-card, here to go to Oxfam America's website, here to like Oxfam on Facebook and here to follow Oxfam on Twitter. (Please refer to #InternationalWomensDay or #IWD, if you talk about it on Twitter.)


Before you go...in the spirit of honoring women, I want to give one of you a gift.  In my sons' library, they have the book "A is for Abigail" by Lynne Cheney.  It is a beautiful, fun "almanac of amazing American women."  I want my sons to grow up knowing the names of women in history who have made a difference in our lives today.  The artwork is beautiful and the content is impressive.  There are no hoops to jump through here.  Just leave a comment and I will randomly select one of you to receive this book via random.org at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 12th.  You will love it!


XL said... [Reply]

Every bit of this is fascinating...from the search for women hibachi chefs to the facts provided by Oxfam regarding women and children and poverty. Using humor to raise awareness is definitely something I can get behind. Thanks for sharing this, Kelley!

Alison@Mama Wants This said... [Reply]

Happy International Women's Day!!

Love your story about the lack of hibachi women chefs. I'm thinking they're at home making kick ass meals for their families.

Thanks for sharing the Oxfam info as well!

Kelly Caffee said... [Reply]

I absolutely love this! I love it! Kelley, your writing never ceases to make me laugh and this post is no different, it just includes such important information that ALL women need to hear. I have two boys and two girls and I want all of them to know about and strive for equality for all! Thanks for all the links!!!

junebug said... [Reply]

I puffy heart hibachi grills!! I've seen the fireman pee out the flames several times and the accidentally spraying ketchup(secret Japanese sauce but really string) out of the bottle at someone. But I have never seen a woman nor have I thought about it until now. Now I'm hungry for hibachi. I wonder if I can get my husband to fling my morning eggs into my mouth from our spatula. Can't wait to see his face when I ask.

Shelly said... [Reply]

Sad to say, I didn't even know this was Women's Day. Thanks for the enlightenment!

Kimberly said... [Reply]

Talk about me and my small town Canadian bubble I live in but I had no idea what those kinds of chefs were...DOH....
but I love this story...suits perfectly with international womens day.
You knocked it out of the park

Natalie said... [Reply]

Wow I had never really thought about that...but is so true... you never see them as hibachi chefs!

Kai said... [Reply]

LOOOOVE this post! I would also love winning this book because I have two great grandsons who would benefit from it! Thanks for adding me to the list!

Paula@lkg4sweetspot said... [Reply]

Great post & thanks for the links - Women's contributions are so underrated (and abused) in many parts of the world! Now, I would like to know what would happen if you asked if there was a Women Hibachi Chef that could prepare Lemon Hibachi Shrimp...that will get them thinking!

TS Hendrik said... [Reply]

I'd welcome women hibachi chefs to my table any day. It's basically like gymnastics with food. Given that women are generally more flexible than guys, that says to me they could probably a lot more tricks. I'm talking Matrix lookin' hibachi awesomeness.

Christian at Point Counter-Point Point Point said... [Reply]

This is really awesome. I can't tell you how pleased I am to know that they have lemon hibachi shrimp.

P.S. All kidding aside I would love to have that book for my kids. Great idea!

W.C.Camp said... [Reply]

I worked for a Japanese Company just out of college and then only women made coffee and were not allowed to play golf. Of course I drank lots of coffee so the unspoken rule seemed ridiculous. Of course my wife played golf better than many in my company so that rule TOO seemed ridiculous. Needless to say, I made coffee and my wife played golf. I am sure there were murmurs at first but soon (of course) NOBODY CARES! I don't think there is an official rule in Japanese society that women cannot be Hibachi chefs but very few people in Japan are willing to buck the unspoken norms like Americans will do. Great reminder about the contribution of the women in the world. THANKS!! W.C.C.

Emily said... [Reply]

Happy International Women's Day! (A little late...)

I loved this! You had me laughing out loud during your search for a female hibachi chef. (Seriously? Lemon!) And then you had me feeling sympathetic and sage while I contemplated poverty and global inequality.

Great post!

Paige Kellerman said... [Reply]

Great post, Kelley! I guess I was too busy trying to catch that minute piece of shrimp in my mouth, to notice that woman aren't that hibachi inclined. I must inquire next time I'm there! Perhaps our kind are in the back making that delicious soup...hmmm

ISRAEL CARRASCO said... [Reply]

The last one I recall is Lorena Bobbit. She was good.

Lindsay said... [Reply]

Wow- I guess I never noticed that before. Maybe I am so set on going into a food coma I have never noticed the people. Great post! I will now be keeping my eyes open for women chefs the next time we go.

Ann Imig said... [Reply]

Now THIS Is a sponsored post. Kelley you're hilarious.

My kids will fit right in at Benihana. They love peeing on things!

Lazarus said... [Reply]

Interesting and amusing post Kkelly, as usual! I'm not interested in the book though, but thanks for buying it for a lucky reader, you're not so bad after all! And, personally, I think you'd make a very colorful and entertaining hibachi chef, you should consider it!

Anonymous said... [Reply]

hey, i do everthing those chefs do---in my own home...

suzi failing


Emmy said... [Reply]

It is so fun watching those chefs- and seriously that one guy does not know what women do if he thought all that work was a lot for women as we usually do all that with a child on our hips!

Always love your posts

jacqui said... [Reply]

This is perfect! :)

Heather said... [Reply]

I enjoyed your search for a woman Hibachi Chef! Until you mentioned it it had never really occurred to me that they were all men. I have never seen or head of that book, I'll be keeping my eye out so I can share it with my daughter. I'd love for her to learn about the strong woman who have helped pave our way.

Crystal Pistol said... [Reply]

Happy Woman's Day! I want that book! My girls need to read it. My son too for that matter!

I had no idea about the chefs. How disappointing. Not suprising. But disappointing, yes.

Katie said... [Reply]

I LOVE THIS!! It is so true...and very thought provoking. OH, and I will be checking out our local Hibachi restaurant ASAP to both eat there and inquire about the status is women hibachi chefs!

Julie said... [Reply]

I think you just gave me whiplash (in a good way) from the humor on one end of the spectrum and the serious information on the other.

And somehow, it feels completely normal now to say this:

I love women and Japanese food and books.


(Also, I love YOU. Thanks for providing such an original, ambitious space on the internet. For real.)

Susan said... [Reply]

Nicely done.

TV's Take said... [Reply]

Your right where have all the chop chop women chefs gone? Curious.

BTW Love all your NICK Mom press. You go girl!

My Inner Chick said... [Reply]

---Happy Women's Day---

Kelly, you are an asset to our gender:)) Xxxxx

Thank you.

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